Friday, July 31, 2015

Zilaiskalns - the blue mountain

Imants nevaid miris, / Viņš tikai apburts kluss - / 
No darbošanās rimis, / Zem Zilā kalna dus!

On the road from Valmiera to the Dikļi Manor is Zilaiskalns, the “blue mountain.” 126 meters in elevation (as compared to Latvia’s highest point Gaiziņkalns at 312 meters), Zilaiskalns is hardly a mountain. However it rises steeply out of the rather flat countryside surrounding it, and so it has accumulated a history as well as the prestige of legend.

It is said that once there was a sacred grove on Zilaiskalns where people would gather from miles around to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve. Known as a place of divination and ritual, it is thought by some that the name is connected not so much with the color ‘blue’ (zils) but with the verb zīlēt, which means’ to divine’ or ‘to tell a fortune’. According to legend, many seers and soothsayers lived around Zilaiskalns. In modern times Marta Rācene lived in the area, known as Zilākalna Marta and famous for her herbal remedies and supposed healing abilities. Others insist that Zilaiskalns is named for the blue fog that often encircles the peak; we may never know the true roots.

Possibly the most famous lore surrounding Zilaiskalns is that it is the burial place of legendary lībietis Imants, who supposedly killed bishop Berthold of Hanover in the 1198 battle of the Livonian Crusade near Rīga. However there are multiple other legends that revolve around Zilaiskalns, such as it being the location of Beverīna, the ancient Livonian stronghold we know from Tālavas taurētājs.

Centuries later during the Great Northern War (1700-1721) when King Charles XII of Sweden and his troops stopped by Burtnieku Lake, it was from Zilaiskalns that they fended off Russian attacks. The soldiers felled the sacred grove and burned it, destroying most of the old trees that once grew at the top of the hill, including the old sacrificial oak with its hollow trunk that according to legend was filled with offerings and coins. A large stone can still be found at the summit, labeled Upurakmens (sacrificial stone).

The tower at the top of the hill supposedly offers a view of the Augstroze hills, with a visible range of over 30 miles on a clear day. Built in 1985, the reinforced concrete tower was used primarily as a fire lookout tower for many years. The tower is not open to the public though, and the supposed views are not visible from the ground except maybe in the winter, once the trees have lost their leaves.

The 300 acre Zilaiskalns Nature Reserve was founded in 2004 to preserve the portions of boreal forest. Part of a drumlin (a narrow ridge formed from glacial movement), the sandy ground is covered with pine forests at the base and oak/linden forests at higher elevations. Rare and endangered species of lichens and mosses such as club moss can be found within the preserve, and the area is rich with animal and insect life. The road from the parking lot leads directly to the tower, but numerous trails wind through the woods around the base. I would suggest wandering slightly from the main road if you have the time, if only to have your fill of the wild blueberries that swathe the forest floor.

Un Saules meitas nācīs / Un miglu projām trauks; / 
Un gaismas laika balsis / Imantu ārā sauks! 
(Andrejs Pumpurs, Imanta)

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